Friday, 4 February 2011

Fenland rooks greet a rosy dawn

There is no denying that the fenland landscape can be bleak, dominated as it is by vast skies and little else to break the spirit-level flat horizon. Dull winter days bring brooding skies, the colour leaching from the land and only the deep peaty darkness of the rich black soils remains. The wildlife often seems pushed to the margins and the intrusive sounds of farm machinery and overhead aircraft remind you that this is a landscape in servitude to our needs.

At the same time, there are moments when the Fens can deliver great beauty and, sometimes, a sense of remoteness and closeness to nature. The other morning, for instance, I found myself at Ely station, waiting for a connection into Cambridge. It was still early and a broad sweep of horizon was blushed with soft purples and reds, a legacy of the changing weather and a weak winter sunrise. The sky, deeply patterned, was stunningly beautiful, with a real sense of depth. The feeling of great distance, a sense often felt in these flat lands, was further deepened by the stark silhouettes of distant poplars, two fields away. Few of my fellow passengers seemed to notice the breaking dawn, suffuse with colour. Perhaps they were too engrossed in their phones, papers or morning coffee to notice the spectacle of this particular fenland morning.

Above the murmurings of chattering people could be heard the more strident calls of Rooks, a steady but loose stream of birds crossing the sky and most likely freshly emerged from a communal overnight roost. The calls of these birds, less harsh in tone than those of the equally familiar Carrion Crow, are one of my most favourite farmland sounds. To me, these early nesters herald the approaching spring and it is a delight to see them present in such good numbers. They hint at the first stirrings of spring, of what is to come with the passing of a few more weeks and with the strengthening sun.

The colour of the sky soon changes and the beauty slips away as the colour slides from purple into grey. Then the moment is gone. My train arrives and I manage to grab a window seat to watch the landscape roll past me: dark soils, narrow ditches and fields that appear as vast lakes, so well are they covered in warming polythene. A small group of Whooper Swans loafing in a field, a flight of wild duck and a thick-coated Roe buck, all slip by. There are days when I love the Fens and others when I struggle to find any attachment, so bleak do they seem. There is, however, always some emotional response to this great landscape.

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